Known as a hub for art and culture, Yogyakarta is the capital of central Java island Indonesia. With an abundance of interesting things to do, streets lined with historical buildings, outskirts brimming with unique experiences, and also known for its sprawling cuisine and cheap prices, Yogyakarta, simply known as Jogja is slowly becoming a favorite destination with both local and foreign tourists. One reason is that Jogja is easily reached from Bali with a 90-minute flight.
When we first visited Yogyakarta it didn’t take us long to fall in love with the place.
Yogyakarta City proper is really unique with all its historical buildings dating back to the Dutch colonial days. A beautiful water castle that was a resting, meditation, and bathing place of a Javanese sultanate. A unique hidden Mosque. And the popular vibrant boulevard Jalan Malioboro.
It is a beautiful city that although is catered for tourism with loads of great places to eat, nice hostels and hotels, and some low-key nightlife, the tourism industry hasn’t influenced the place so much. Which leaves Jogja a relatively authentic city to visit while in Java.
Yogyakarta is slowly becoming popular with tourists. However, many people fail to realize that Jogja offers so much more than the common touristy things. Just taking a ride out of the city and exploring along Jogja’s outskirts are some of the best tourist spots that don’t really get many tourists.
In this guide, we are laying out the best things to do in Yogyakarta, like the best also means popular. So to balance things out, we’ve included other unique attractions that not so many people visit. And those sort of things usually turn out to be some of the best activities or places worth visiting if you want to get off the common tourist trail.
THINGS TO DO IN YOGYAKARTA
Jalan Malioboro is one of the main streets within Yogyakarta city. But it isn’t just any street.
Malioboro is a well-known boulevard in Jogja that has to be included in any itinerary.
Popular by day for shopping. Like literally shopping for anything from clothes to souvenirs or food and snacks.
And at 6 pm every day, the street closes for the traffic and turns into a melting pot of various activities along with a vibrant food scene.
Carriages drawn by horses and becak (a sort of rickshaw) offer rides for tourists around the Malioboro area and surrounding streets.
But what steals the spotlight are loads of food stalls.
Often tourists and travelers are intimidated by the local food culture. And many times opt to try the local cuisine in fancy restaurants.
But if you’re serious about trying the real thing, it is on the streets and the tiny shops that you’ll find authentic dishes and all the yummy cuisine.
Fish, chicken, rice, loads of fried things, and sweets. While you’re at Malioboro one of the best things to do is to go food stall hopping. Go from one stall to another and try different things. It is the best way to get to know more about Indonesian cuisine.
What I tried here was gudeg which is made from unripe jackfruit and tastes sort of sweet and chocolatey. It truly is very delicious.
And then a drink called ronde. You’ll see a lot of stalls selling ronde which is a sort of soul drink here in Jogja. Ronde is a warm drink made with ginger with loads of jelly bits inside. And the highlight in this drink are two balls of crushed and sweetened peanuts wrapped in a chewy pastry.
Planning your first trip to Yogyakarta?
Check out our handy 3 day Yogyakarta itinerary plan. There is everything you need in there so you don’t need to worry too much about planning.
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Taman Sari Water Castle
Located within walking distance from Jalan Malioboro, Taman Sari is a popular tourist spot in Yogyakarta.
Every day tourists come here to see this historic building in the heart of Jogja.
So make sure to come here early if you want to avoid some of the crowds.
Originally, this was a huge garden complex built by a late Sultan in Jogja. And Taman Sari water castle was the centerpiece of the huge garden complex.
It is said that Taman Sari water castle was actually a place where the sultan entertained his many mistresses. I will leave it up to you to be creative with what that means.
Today, all that remains is the water castle and the outer walls of the complex. The rest of the inner walls of this complex have been occupied by a cluster of small villages.
Taman Sari Entrance Fee: IDR 15.000 ($1)
Sumur Gumuling (Mosque)
Inside the same grounds as Taman Sari, there is a very interesting Mosque because it is literally hidden away beneath the street.
In fact, the Mosque is underground.
Access to Sumur Gumuling underground Mosque is from the exit point of the water castle.
It is a bit tricky to find exactly where the place is. There are no signs and you need to figure out how to make your way through a maze of narrow alleys outside the castle.
The best thing to do is to ask any one of the residents or follow one of the guided tours that will be going there anyway.
The entrance to Sumur Gumuling is through a tunnel that leads to a corridor wrapping all the way around a central courtyard. Natural light from the open-air ceiling flood the mosque.
And a circular structure is adorned by small arched doors and surrounds 4 sets of stairs. These stairs meet to form a dome and from here another flight leads to the top floor.
Capturing the mosque’s beautiful architecture from the top floor requires getting here early so as to avoid the crowd.
Kampung Code Riverside Village
There are loads of things to do in Yogyakarta. Some are very well known while other things not so many people know about.
And one of those places worth adding to your Yogyakarta itinerary is Kampung Code. A small neighborhood that stretches along one of the city’s rivers – the Kali Code river.
If you’ve ever heard of Jodipan colorful village in Malang, then Kampung Code is sort of a similar resemblance. But with a bit less vibrant colors.
Colorful houses, brightly painted alleys, and artistic murals give this village a distinctive touch.
We also found a vendor selling bubur kacang. We had no idea what it was, so we obviously decided to give it a try. Everyone was pretty surprised to have two random tourists just strolling around their neighborhood. So you can just imagine how much more interesting it was when we stopped to try this new thing for breakfast.
Bubur Kacang turned out to be one of my favorite Indonesian breakfasts. It is like a porridge made with beans, coconut milk and sugar.
The village is like one big family and everybody was welcoming and friendly.
Along the way we experienced the day to day life of these villagers and came across kids playing and swimming in the river next to small fish farms, a lady preparing all sorts of traditional stews and dishes which later on she would sell in Malioboro street, a store selling fresh fried chicken.
Alun Alun Kidul
You could visit Alun Alun Kidul during the day. But don’t expect anything more interesting than two really big banyan trees in the middle of a big piazza.
Although the trees are nice to see, the truth is there isn’t much more to the place. At least during the day.
But, come evening time and this seemingly very quiet area turns into one very vibrant, colorful, and lively atmosphere.
Every bit of the sidewalk space turns into parking space for the loads of scooters that flock over to Alun Alun Kidul for the evening.
And any remaining space on the side of the street is lined with various food vendors. So if you like to try new things, you’ll be spoilt here. From nasi goreng, grilled squid, sausage, chicken and even fried duck there is no shortage of food here.
But it doesn’t all end there.
Alun Alun Kidul is a well-known place for its bright neon-lit peddle circulating around the big trees.
And while you’re there try the banyan tree challenge.
What you need to do is to walk in a line through the 2 banyan trees, from one end to the other of the canopy.
Although it may sound simple, that thing is huge. But if you manage to complete the challenge, it is said you’ll have good luck. So I guess it’s worth a try.
Although not technically in Yogyakarta, a visit to the Borobudur temple is one of the main highlights while in Jogja. And after all, it’s only about a 1-hour drive away from the City.
Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This massive structure is built on 9 different levels. Starting with a base of 6 square levels and the last 3 levels change into circular tiered levels which are then topped by a dome.
The massive structure of Borobudur is entirely decorated with loads of engraving depicting various events. But it is the last 3 levels that are the most stunning.
Dotted all around the top levels there are 72 perforated little domes. And each dome has a Buddha inside.
But it is the sunrise and early morning fog that makes this place so magical. The golden morning sun will light up the temple shining through and creating contrasting shadows over the many stupas and Buddhas on the top level.
Even more interesting about Borobudur is that sometime after its completion Muslim influence was on the rise and this Buddhist temple was abandoned and left for nature to take over almost. After hundreds of years of being forgotten, Borobudur was rediscovered by an archeologist who found the massive structure overtaken by vegetation and in ruins.
There is a very interesting museum inside the same ground as the temple. Here there are old photographs dating back to the actual discovery of Borobudur. And the photographs depict the state the temple was in. Almost in ruins, with broken walls and others about to collapse, the images are a really good way of seeing how well preserved the temple is today.
1-hour drive away from Borobudur [or 40 minutes from Yogyakarta] there is another impressive temple.
Prambanan is Indonesia’s largest Hindu temple complex and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Prambanan isn’t just one temple but a number of big high structures with the main temple standing at 47 meters high.
Originally, Prambanan was a massive complex with the main buildings that stand today being surrounded by 240 smaller temples. Which goes to show how huge this complex must have been.
Today, only a few of the main temples have been restored. All around the complex grounds are piles and piles of stones which have been meticulously sorted out as the restoration process keeps ongoing.
The actual complex is big. You could walk around the place which would take some time. Or another option is to hop on a train-bus that goes around the park and stops at various other sites in the area.
And while you’re on this bus ride you’ll also stop at a temple that is surprisingly Buddhist rather than Hindu.
Tips – Borobudur & Prambanan
- If you intend visiting both Borobudur and Prambanan temple, make sure you buy a combo ticket because it works out a bit cheaper that way. A combo ticket for Borobudur and Prambanan costs 630k IDR (45$) per person (as of June 2019). The ticket will be valid to use on the day of purchase and the next day. So you could visit the temples on 2 separate days.
- A discount is provided if you show your student card.
- The sunrise and sunset Borobudur tickets are purchased through Manohara.
- Best to arrive at Borobudur as early as 6 am to enjoy the sunrise.
Nepal Van Java
On the slopes of an active volcano named Mount Sumbing there is this small settlement known as Nepal Van Java.
It may not be a very well-known place. But if you have the time, it is however one of the best places to visit while you’re in Yogyakarta.
From Yogyakarta, the drive to Nepal Van Java takes around 2 hours. Don’t worry too much about the drive because when you get out of the city, the ride is quite a highlight too with constant sceneries of rice fields, cultivated lands, winding roads through lush landscapes, and small villages.
And in the end, you’ll be in this remote place with a village tiered up the slopes of a volcano.
Many tourists come here to take a few picture from the entrance with a backdrop of colorful houses. And then jump onto a motorbike taxi to scale the steep slopes and reach a viewpoint further up.
But spending the night here is what really amplifies the whole experience.
The 2 night we spent in Nepal Van Java rewarded us with stunning morning sunrises over the remote lands, distant mountain tops, and mist covering the tiny villages far far below us. We wandered through the narrow streets steep slopes while motorbikes cruised at full speed uphill.
And at night our lovely guesthouse owner invited us into her tradtional kitchen where meals were cooked on a wood burning authentic asian stove.
READ OUR DETAILED POST ABOUT NEPAL VAN JAVA
Nglanggeran Ancient Volcano
Mount Nglanggeran is an ‘ancient’ inactive volcano. And reaching the peak of this dormant volcano is an easy 1-hour hike that will take you through the woods. At some point, you have to wiggle through a creek up some bamboo ladders and scale some boulders.
Although this may sound rather complex and challenging, it is a relatively easy and straightforward hike.
And we actually hiked to the top in the dead of night before the sun came up. Because we wanted to get up there on the top of the mountain for sunrise.
Along with a few other locals who had camped for the night we watched as the sun slowly rose over the mountains and shined through the morning dew uncovering the underlying lands of rice fields, farmland, and small villages.
You’ll need to leave super early if you intend to come for sunrise. From Yogyakarta City the starting point there is about a 1 hour drive and another at least 1 hour to hike up the volcano. Also, bring headlamps, it’s a lot easier than navigating with the mobile torch.
Hutan Pinus Pengger
Hutan Pinus Pengger is a nature park in the cooler mountains southeast of Yogyakarta city.
If you’re looking for an Instagrammable place, then you will be surprised how many cool places there are here to take photos.
At the end of the park, there is a stunning viewpoint over vast lands and distant mountain tops. All around the park and amongst the high trees different structures like small hobbit houses or sort of bird nests made from wooden sticks.
Probably the most popular spot in all the park is a structure in the shape of a hand and that shoots out over the viewpoint at the end of the park
The entrance fee into the park is 3k IDR ($0.20) per person. And for each different structure (photo spot), I think there is a fee. But since we were here very early there was no one there to collect any fee so I’m not sure what you should expect to pay.
Sri Gethuk Waterfall
Somewhere in the middle of ricefields and green lands, there is Sri Gethuk waterfall.
Nestled in a valley standing right beside a river surrounded by the jungle, Sri Gethuk may not be the largest cascade but is definitely a pretty one.
Take a walk around the park and stroll through the rice terraces. And in the end, finish it off with a plunge into the fresh river water that makes its way down the mountain and along loads of huge boulders.
While you’re there, consider doing a short tour on a barge. The barge driver will take you on a journey along the river and through the jungle where there are other waterfalls to be explored.
The entrance fee is 25k IDR (1.70$) per person.
Explore the maze of side streets
Getting a glimpse of the real Jogja entails venturing away from tourist spots. One option would be to just wander off along the intricate alleys and you’d likely get more in touch with the local culture.
The small winding streets are where tradition along with art prevail and you never know what you may come across.
We did this sort of walk around Jogja City streets and along the way ended up in small malls selling a variety of things like food, veg, fruits.
And then walking through the city’s backstreets, we were amazed at the creativeness with loads of pretty artistic murals and paintings along every narrow street.
Parangtritis is a glittery black volcanic beach, synonymous with many other beaches on Java island.
Although we originally came here with the intention of swimming, Parangtritis beach isn’t really intended for that because of the big crashing waves.
Instead, the beach is a nice relaxation spot with loads of things going on.
Warungs selling all kinds of different local food line the beach. And on the beach expect to find a few activities like riding in a carriage towed by horses, dirt bike, and quad bike rental to zoom along the big black sandy bay area.
It may not seem the best place to relax with all that is going on. But the beach goes on for as long as your eyes can see. So you’re bound to find a spot with pretty much no one around where you can watch the waves slowly crash and lap over onto the sand.
A 5-minute drive west from the main bay area there is Taman Gumuk Pasir. The creator of this place is a local artist who decided to make a pretty garden in an unusual and isolated place.
You probably won’t realize what you’re walking through. But what it is, is a heart-shaped garden of flowers and makes for a few cool photos especially if you can take some aerial shots with a drone.
Kalibiru National Park
Kalibiru is a National Park located about 1-hour drive west of Yogyakarta city. It is a park in the highlands near Yogyakarta city and made up of thick forest trees offering some interesting activities.
It doesn’t matter what fitness level you are. There are some great trails through the trees that would suit anyone.
Either choose the short trek of 3km or the longer route of around 7 km. So either option is quite manageable and the trails are also well maintained.
But what most tourists come for is to make their way to the top of a mountain where there is a sort of theme park.
The theme park has loads of different photo spots to choose from. Like platforms almost hanging off the edge of the mountain and a background of hills, thick forestry below, and a man-made lake in the distance.
The entrance fee to the park is 20k IDR per person.
We love Yogyakarta for a bunch of reasons. Probably one of the best things is that it is a city that is very easy to navigate, it has good infrastructure, and isn’t all that touristy but has enough things and amenities that us westerners are used to.
So those were our top tips and suggestions for places to go and things to do in and around Yogyakarta. And don’t forget about Jogja’s nightlife scene. Don’t expect anything crazy going on at night, but you can find some pretty decent places with live bands and things like that.
CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT WHAT TO DO AT NIGHT IN JOGJA
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While you’re in Java make sure to visit the most impressive natural wonders in East Java because some are so unique you won’t find anything similar anywhere else.
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